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Elasticity

Elasticity is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality of being adaptable.” By definition, elasticity is not merely a description of successful campers and staff, but a description of summer camp itself. Summer camps have existed for over a century and are generally considered a piece of Americana.   With well over 12,000 summer camps across the United States (and a collective enrollment in the tens of millions), however, summer camp is anything but a thing of the past. It’s a strong “tradition” that continues to attract families from all over the world.

One might be tempted to ask what quality of summer camp enables it to continue to thrive. Undoubtedly, that quality its elasticity. While summer camps are rooted in tradition, they’re also in tune with the contemporary needs of children. Summer camp was originally a place where parents sent their children to escape from the health hazards posed by the increasing industrialization of cities. Now, it’s a place where children are sent to escape the automation of society. Camp is no longer merely a place to reconnect with nature but with each other as well. Summer camps have expanded their activities to reflect this evolution. In addition to sports, camps offer activities such as outdoor adventure, which include rope and obstacle courses designed for team building.

Summer camps have also tapped into the rising de-emphasis of the arts in public schools and embraced programs that encourage campers to explore their creative sides. In addition to traditional arts & crafts, many camps now provide campers with options in cooking, music, magic, and even circus arts. The generous availability of these programs attracts families who want their children to have the opportunity to explore their artistic sides.

In demonstrating a clear understanding of how campers benefit from attending camp, summer camps have been able to adapt by translating the voids created by advancements in society into meaningful and timeless activities.

The “Special” Experience of Summer Camp

Actress Jami Gertz, a summer camp alumni, once said, “There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing.”  Although on the outset this seems like just another quote about summer camp, the use of the word “special” makes it standout.  “Special” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “distinguishable,” “superior,” or “of particular esteem.” Every camp, when planning the summer, strives to create an experience that sets it apart from other camps.  To those whose exposure to summer camp is limited to Hollywood’s interpretation of it, there may seem to be little that distinguishes one from another.  However, to those who attend or have attended summer camp, each one is unique from others.  For campers and staff alike, to think of the more than 12,000 summer camps throughout the United States as a collective summer experience is to think of all pizza as having the same flavor.  Sure the basic ingredients are the same.  Most pizza pies even look similar.  But, depending on which toppings you add, one pie might taste very different from another.  It’s that special flavor of each camp that gives it that “esteemed” place in the hearts of those who have called it their summer home.  Choosing a camp is more than simply deciding to send your child.  The values, traditions, activities, facilities, staff, and even the duration all play a role in deciding at which summer camp your child will find the most success.

In a couple of weeks, another summer will start, and thousands of young campers will taste summer camp for the first time.  They’ll spend their first night sleeping in a bunk/cabin with fellow new campers.  They’ll bond with favorite counselors.  They’ll try at least one activity for the first time.  They’ll make new friends, learn new songs, and, for the first time, experience life away from their parents.  As Jami Gertz said, it will be “special” as they begin gaining the independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence that are all-important ingredients in creating a life that is “distinguishable.”  Ultimately, however, the role that summer camp plays in the successes of the lives of campers as children and, as they mature, in helping former campers meet the challenges of adulthood does not simply come down to experience but also in the choice of summer camp.  So whether you’re just starting to consider summer camp, have begun searching for a camp, or will be one of the thousands of prospective families touring summer camps this year, be on the lookout for the right mix of ingredients that will create that “special” experience for your child.

The Value of Summer Camp to Teenagers

From the rituals they lead to open camp on the first night until the moment they say teary farewells to their final summers, summer camp plays as significant a role in older campers’ lives as they play in carrying on its traditions.  There are a lot of camp articles that sing the praises of summer camp for young children, but few focus on the value of the camp experience for young teens.  By the time many campers reach their teens, they already have several camp summers behind them.  For them, it’s not really about newness anymore, but reliability and tradition: who is at camp, what is at camp, camp rites to which they’ve looked forward since they were young.  In a period of child’s life that can be a roller coaster full of ups and downs that come at full speed, summer camp is oasis of stability.  It’s solid ground, a safe place where teenagers go to be themselves and to let loose of the stress and strain that are inextricably part of the teenage years.

At summer camp, teenagers can still be young while getting a taste of what it means to be grown up.  They connect with a small group of people with whom they’ve shared experiences since they were very young and with whom they continue to share experiences.  They not only share experiences, they share memories that only a select group of others shares.  Both give older campers a distinct sense of belonging.  Regardless of who or what they are to their school peers the other ten months of the year, camp is a circle of inclusion that often extends far beyond the camp years.  Older campers also benefit from privileges that come from being older.  They’re tapped to lead camp activities, given leadership roles on teams of younger campers, and charged with being examples in honoring camp traditions.  In short, older campers “train” younger campers how to be good campers.  For many of them, being a role model and a mentor is one of the best aspects of camp.  The pride in having played a role in a younger camper’s life is what brings many former campers back to camp in their adult years to work as counselors.

Beyond rituals and traditions, there is also the encouragement that many older campers get from staff members in pursuing college and career goals, be it allowing them to sample career life through Apprentice type tasks, giving them the opportunity to write an essay for the camp blog,  giving them a camera and letting them take photos for the camp website, helping them write a college essay or work through a summer reading assignment, or just talking to them about what life as a teacher or a coach is like.  By the time campers reach their teenage years, they’ve learned to appreciate what staff members bring to the table and are eager to learn and listen.  Ask any former camper to name a camp staff member who had a special impact on their lives, and within seconds they’ll share the story of a beloved counselor or staff member who taught them something about life that they still practice today.

Although many bonds form when campers are young, some of the most special form when they’re older.  Sometimes something as simple as a team building exercise helps teenage campers realize that they have more in common with a fellow camper than they thought they did.  At an age when it’s all too easy to feel isolated, being able everyday to realize life as a valuable part of a whole translates into some of the most special memories of a camp career.

Camp is more than just a summer away from home hanging with friends.  It’s a learning experience, and some of the most valuable lessons are learned in the midst of teenage fun at summer camp.

Going to Camp with Your Siblings

They may fight like cats and dogs at home, but attending camp together is special for siblings. Parents may be surprised to learn that at camp, they don’t accuse each of being the one to lose the television remote. Instead, they wave and smile when they pass each other on campus. They don’t fight about taking up each other’s space in the car either. Instead, they make special meeting places to talk about camp—everything they’ve done, new things they’ve tried, new friends they’ve made, and how their sports teams are doing how they got a bullsyeye in archery or are going to be singing a song in the show. Siblings don’t taunt each other when they do something silly at camp. They cheer for them. And, parents, you may be surprised to learn that siblings don’t pretend that each other has an infectious disease that prevents them from ever touching at camp. They readily hug.

As you can see, summer camp may as well be Hogwarts for its ability to transform sibling rivalry into a special relationship. Camp is a distinct set of memories they share apart from their parents. Those camp experiences will always be just theirs, which creates a bond that helps them grow as brothers and sisters as well as individuals. It’s an opportunity that many children who do not attend sleepaway camp don’t get to experience until adulthood. By being able to share a special set of traditions and values, siblings are able to appreciate their relationships at a much earlier age. The thrill of seeing each other experience camp firsts and pass camp milestones also helps them learn to appreciate each other as individuals.

And, let’s face it, we know that seeing your children smiling together in a camp photo after hitting the refresh button a thousand times each day makes it all worthwhile for you. Those smiles are why you put them on the bus or plane each year. They’re why you post the photos to your on Facebook pages and pass them around, accumulating likes. You love hearing them asking each if they remember a certain time at camp or singing the same songs and doing the same cheers. In that respect, being able to send your children to summer camp together is special for you too.

Play

We recently listened to a man who has spent many, many years studying the effects of play on humans. While it sounds a lot like our job as camp directors, he’s got the Ph.D. so we thought to give him our attention. We are glad we did.

Dr. Stuart Brown said several fascinating things about Play:

  • It overrides what is sometimes fixed in our natures – it brings individuals together in ways which allow them to expand their knowledge of others and the world around them.
  • If the purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play.
  • People who have not played with their hands (fixing and building) do not solve problems as well.
  • The basis of human trust is established through play signals. We begin to lose those signals as we age.

When you look at camp through the prism of these statements on play, you encounter a big ‘duh!’ moment. Watching our campers play together shows you how the common act of laughing together, or playing gaga, or chase, or different table games allows the kids to spread their wings and learn.

While we have a good bit of unstructured play at camp but, there is also a great deal of play within teams such as soccer, basketball, baseball, dance teams, and more.  Campers build trust with their teammates, learn from mistakes, and are taught to keep a great attitude throughout their time at camp.

In woodworking, robotics, and ceramics, we give kids a great opportunity to explore with their hands and make, fix, and tear apart things they don’t normally at home. These experiences lead to wonderful outcomes both over the short and the long term.

Thankfully, Dr. Brown reminds us that we, as humans, are designed to play throughout our lifetimes. We couldn’t agree more. And, since play signals help build trust, we hire camp counselors who show the right mix of maturity and experience while keeping playfulness close to the surface.

We are excited to remain a place where play leads to several much needed outcomes: relationship formation, the development of confidence and independence, and a community in which campers know they are accepted. Whether through our traditions, choice based program, evening activities or during free time, our campers laugh and learn while playing!

The Importance of Being Creative

Arts and Crafts at summer camp is more than just stringing together a few beads to make a bracelet or gluing some spray painted macaroni to a cardboard picture frame. It’s a program that gives campers the opportunity to explore their creative interests in several different types of art by offering a diverse array of age appropriate projects. Of course there are the traditional projects that are just plain fun, like paper mache and tie-dying. However, many summer camps also offer campers the opportunity to try things that are not only artistic but could be useful skills or even careers, such as metal work, jewelry making, calligraphy, cartooning, or soap and candle making. Just like sports programs at camp, many campers have discovered a passion in their summer camp’s Arts and Crafts programs that they later pursued further.

Another way in which summer camp Arts & Crafts programs benefit campers is by providing a creative outlet for children who are being given fewer chances to explore the arts in their school programs. Ashfaq Ishaq, PhD, argues that without being given the appropriate opportunity to explore their creative sides, children will not learn how to combine creativity with acquired knowledge to reach their full potential. Art encourages spontaneity and exploration, two things that allow us, as people, to be innovative and prolific in our thinking. Creativity also refines problem solving skills by helping us understand how to think “outside the box” when traditional solutions aren’t practical. All three qualities are considered crucial to success in a child’s education as well as their adulthood careers. Summer camp Arts & Crafts programs also give campers the opportunity to try some projects that might not be available in traditional school art programs, such as throwing clay on a pottery wheel.

For many campers, summer camp has become a way of maintaining tradition in environments that are ever changing. Faced with a fast paced, changing world in the winter, children can still depend on summer as a way to fall back on activities and hobbies that may not be greatly valued in conventional schools anymore but are useful and bring satisfaction. Arts and Crafts may be a dying art within American school systems. But it’s thriving within American summer camps.

What I Learned at Camp

Summer is winding down. Wait – we just got here!

That’s how fast camp goes. One day a kid boards the bus with nervous anticipation. The next, he heads home on the same bus with a smile and a lifetime of memories.

They don’t even realize that – in addition to having tons of fun – they’ve grown a lot.

The other day, we asked a few of our campers what they learned this summer. Here’s what they shouted – er, said:

  • Counselors are cool. We talked about everything.
  • Before I went to camp, people said the food stinks. It didn’t.
  • I learned I could swim a lot farther than I thought. But the waterfront guys told me I could do it all along.
  • It’s impossible for my counselor to pack everything back up the way my mom did before camp.
  • It’s okay to wake up early if you don’t know what time it is.
  • I’m not sure, but I may ask my parents if I can do yoga when I get home.
  • Sometimes when people say “hurry up, you’ll be late,” they really mean it. Sometimes they don’t.
  • I always thought I liked lacrosse better than soccer. Now I’m not sure.
  • I saw my sister less this summer than I do at home. But it was still nice having her here.
  • No one will clean up your cabin for you, except you.
  • It’s really nice if your parents write a lot, even if they don’t say much in their letters.
  • It’s hard to canoe when your paddle falls in the water.
  • I have eight new best friends.
  • When they tell you to bring a sweatshirt and a blanket, they know what they are talking about.
  • I was positive I couldn’t live without my cell phone. Now I forget where I put it in my room before I left.
  • How come no one ever told me that waterskiing was so much fun?
  • It’s good to go on trips away from camp. And it’s good to come back.
  • I like my new nickname a lot.
  • When I came to camp I missed my dog. When I go home I’m going to miss my horse.
  • Maine is an awesome state!
  • It feels like I grew five inches, but the nurse says only one.
  • I still can’t sing, but our play was amazing anyway.
  • My goal in life is to come back as a counselor.

Sing, Sing a Song

There is something about singing that brings people together. Perhaps that’s why singing (and music in general) is such an important part of camp. The silly or sometimes sentimental words of a “camp song” can set a mood, evoke a feeling, and create atmosphere. Music is a universal language that everyone understands. Perhaps this is why so many American summer camps open and close their summers with sing-alongs. Sing-alongs are fantastic ways to say both “we’re together again” and “until next time.”

Ask campers to name some of their most favorite moments of summer camp and, most assuredly, they’ll name more than one that involves singing in some way…that first exciting night of camp, campfires, zany and often spontaneous dining room rituals, fun times with fellow campers and counselors inside the bunk, and saying goodbye at the end of the summer. More importantly, ask any current or former camper to sing his camp alma mater and he’ll do it as if it’s second nature. The words of a camp’s alma mater are magical—a way to instantly transport one back to camp and those summers filled with fun and friends.

Many parents say that their children even sing camp songs constantly throughout the winter as a way of remembering their time at camp. Some of them even admit that they can’t resist the temptation to join in.

The Pine Tree State

Maine Camp Experience - CL GirlsSummer camps got their start in Maine. A century later, they’re still going strong. The Pine Tree State now boasts 100 premier institutions – including The Laurel Camps (Laurel and Laurel South.)

We’re proud to call Maine home. We’re just as proud to utilize the resources of the entire state and to give hundreds of campers an experience unequaled anywhere else.

At The Laurel Camps there’s more than enough room for an exciting depth and breadth of activities. Sports ranging from baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse to volleyball, tennis and archery.  Equestrian.  Swimming, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing and waterskiing on crystal-clear lakes.

Maine Camp Experience - CL BoysSummers in Maine are never too hot. And the nights are cool (and starry) enough for age-old traditions like campfires and s’mores.

But for campers and staff at Laurel and Laurel South, all of Maine is our playground. We hike tall mountains like Katahdin. We head into the pine forests for ropes courses, rappelling and mountain biking. We explore the coast and ocean-side sites like Acadia National Park, Ogunquit and Bar Harbor.

Campers come to Maine from across the country. Whether they’ve been here in the winter to ski, or have never experienced the wonders of the state, they quickly realize it’s an amazing, magnificent place – vast yet intimate, wild yet welcoming.

Parents love it too – particularly if they plan a day or three in the trendy city of Portland, with a side trip to Kennebunkport, Camden or (of course) Freeport to visit L.L. Bean!

It’s all part of the Maine camp experience – discovering new things, no matter what your age. And you never know…you may be lucky enough to spot a Moose.

Jem and Debbie
Camp Laurel

Building Creativity Through Campfire

One of the most endearing and sacred parts of summer camp is the campfire. More than just wood lit with a match, it’s an intimate part of the camping experience that goes far beyond simply sitting around a fire. Each camp has a set of traditions uniquely connected to the campfire experience and, to campers, each tradition is significant, demanding reverence. The campfire is the very place where many children recall the moment when their camp transformed from “a camp” to “their camp”, where fellow campers and counselors become family while singing songs, roasting s’mores, and engaging in campfire activities. So intricate is the campfire to the summer camp experience that even former Disney CEO Michael Eisner has reflected on its importance in making him who he is:

“Simply consider the lessons I was taught by the campfire…every time the rich reward was the same as we simply sat and enjoyed our consuming creation. And, there was one aspect in particular that never failed to intrigue me, and that was the process of seeing the single small flame of the match spread to the kindling and then the twigs and then the smaller branches and finally the larger logs. It didn’t dawn on me until years later, but this was the perfect metaphor for the creative process…Years later, I found myself running a network television division and then a movie studio and now an entire entertainment company. But, much of the success I’ve achieved can be traced to the direct and metaphorical lessons I learned in building those campfires.”

To some, to assign such significance to fire may seem a bit of a stretch. But to anyone who has attended camp, it’s not only believable but apt. Beyond Eisner’s metaphor, the campfire is symbolic of camp, and represents the bonding between campers and nature. Campfires instantly evoke feelings of togetherness and promote an atmosphere of being together in an intimate setting that is unique to the people who are present. Many camps hold opening and closing campfires to welcome campers and immerse them in the camping experience and to help them say goodbye at the end of the summer. At the beginning of the summer, the flames represent the birth of a new summer. Opening campfires often include some sort of ritual that introduces an idea or process that can be re-visited throughout the summer, such as setting goals for the summer or some sort of introduction and bonding activity with camp “siblings”. The meaning of the flames, however, transforms at the end of the summer. The burning of a closing campfire represents the end of the season. It’s a way to give the summer a proper and respectful send off. Campfires held throughout the summer supplement overnight camping trips and special events.

To say that the campfire breeds creativity is not only accurate, but understated. The various representations and meanings that the actual fire itself takes on helps campers learn to look at the same thing from different angles, a crucial aspect of honing creative thought and learning to think “outside the box”, which is essential to developing good problem solving skills. When considered from this perspective, it’s not at all difficult to imagine a CEO of one of the world’s largest companies crediting much of his success to his camp experiences, specifically to the campfire. In fact, it provides insight about the significance of camp and how the lessons learned there can be carried throughout life.

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